I never imagined that loving a little boy would be this gut-wrenching. Tomorrow is September 1st, the first day of the school year, and that means that everything else in the educational universe begins, including day care programs for tiny tots. Months ago, I searched high and low across Jerusalem, seeing one place after another. None of them impressed me and some made me want to grab Eli and run screaming in the other direction.
And then my friend Lynne recommended Penina’s place, not just recommended, but mentioned it with tenderness and longing and love, as if to say, I wish my kids were still little enough to go to Penina.
When we walked for a visit, I noticed its lovely, cozy feeling, the large tented play area, the plethora of great toys – and the contented-looking kids. It genuinely looked like a fun place to spend the day. There was no shortage of staff. A bunch of the kids were seated around a table, helped by several women, and enjoying the natural, organic, home-cooked food – no white flour or sugar – Penina is famous for among discerning parents. Moreover, there was something about Penina that simply seemed nurturing and wise.
And so we decided to take the leap. As of tomorrow our son, a few weeks shy of his first birthday, will start going to a day care program four days a week. In Israel they call this a gan (garden, with the kinder part being obvious) or mishpachton – a diminutive of the word family, because most of these centers are run out of someone’s home.
Yet I am ridiculously susceptible to what my friend told me in Buddhism is called “Comparing Mind.” What is everyone else doing? Most of my friends with babies the same age are sending them to day care somewhere – including several moms who don’t work full time – but did I choose the right place? While Lynne is a pretty discriminating mother – she’s also a therapist and has run groups to help kids develop socialization skills – one of my other friends visited Penina’s place and thought it looked miserable. She said the crawlers weren’t getting enough attention; she worried her son would be neglected.
I’d had the opposite experience when I visited. Eli took off and happily mixed in with the other little tikes. When I picked him up to leave, he seemed to say, “Aw, Mom, can’t you see I’m having fun here?” Recently, when we took him to the birthday party of his 3-year-old cousin, Eli confidently jumped in to play with the older kids. Seeing his thrill at being around other children, I began to question the wisdom of having him at home with one of us or with a nanny day after day when he could be enjoying the stimulation of interacting with other babies and toddlers.
And yet, I’m still looking over my shoulder. I feel a little inferior to the one mom I know who’s keeping her baby – same age as Eli – at home with her, with help from a part-time nanny. And I feel a tad superior to the friends I have in other countries who have their kids of the same age in day care until 6 p.m. In Israel, all programs of this type end at 3:45 or 4, and apparently, if you have children of this age, your employer legally has to let you go early enough to pick them up.
Perhaps I need to remind myself of the wisdom I heard recently from a friend who is struggling to get pregnant. In the midst of it, three of her good friends are due to give birth. Not so long ago, I was in her shoes. “I’m just coming to realize that everyone is in their story and it has nothing to do with my story,” she said.
Our story is that Eli is going off to day care tomorrow, and I am afraid I will cry like a mother sending her son off to war. But this too is part of the story – of learning to let go just a little bit, and to trust others.
Still, I think I’m going to be one of those moms who just drops in a lot. After all, you can’t embarrass your one-year-old, can you? And if something doesn’t feel right, we could always change our minds.